City gardening: Ottawa gardeners are findings methods to deliver sustainability

Urban gardening: Ottawa gardeners are findings ways to bring sustainability


Cole Etherington wasn’t always green-fingered. In fact, he said his first year as a gardener was just awful: his crops wouldn’t grow, the soil wasn’t right, and everything that could go wrong did.

“It just absolutely sucked,” Etherington said.

But that failure only got him to assess what he did wrong and how he could improve. The following year, as the snow melted, Etherington started again at his home 45 minutes south of Ottawa.

He said the game-changer was when he started using his chickens’ manure as fertilizer. Since then, his burgeoning garden has produced fresh vegetables such as squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and a stunning array of herbs.

Etherington has always been interested in reducing its carbon footprint and increasing plant diversity through agriculture.

“Even a tomato plant in a flowerpot on your balcony is part of the fight against climate change,” he said.

As food prices continue to rise, more and more people are turning their love of gardening into a way to save money.

Shabana Buwalda, who lives in a townhouse in Ottawa, is one of them.

Her backyard in the city isn’t the largest piece of land to start growing food, but her family now has several garden beds,

Now in its sixth season, the family of four has canned herbs and a whole winter’s supply of tomatoes. They grow much of their produce, including carrots, beans, kale, and beets, and preserve what they can.

“I would encourage people to start small just to be curious,” she said. “And with every season you realize how little we have to rely on grocery stores.”

Deborah Smeltzer had to downsize and adapt her gardening hobby after moving out of her home two years ago.

“Years ago I had a huge garden. Every spot in my garden was a garden of sorts, so I gained a lot of knowledge from that — and then life changed,” she said.

Since moving into a one-bedroom apartment, Smeltzer has been experimenting with ways to grow food in small spaces. She began growing produce on her balcony in the warmer months, but an ongoing feud with pigeons has forced her to go indoors.

She has now built a plywood shelf over the heater next to her windows to make room for an ever-growing collection of avocado and lemon trees.

For Etherington, urban farming has led to a growing sense of community.

He has now started a small business that puts together starter kits for people interested in gardening, with a focus on making the garden beds small enough to fit comfortably in an indoor apartment.

When he first started, he was hesitant to tell the world he was a trans farmer for fear of backlash from a community he felt didn’t fit into. But he has received messages of support from others who also didn’t think they would see someone like himself farming.

“I thought it was important to be that person and to get messages from people who say they appreciate it just means the world to me,” Etherington said.

Each of his kits comes with a reclaimed hardwood bed lined with upcycled chicken feed. They also have seedlings ready to be raised, a set of instructions and manure from “the happiest chickens in the world”.

“When you grow food right in your home, it doesn’t get more local than that,” he said.

“My hope is to empower people to embrace gardening by giving them access to food and food security, but also showing that they can help make a difference.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 21, 2023